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POLITICS in PUBS Newcastle

Reasons to be cheerful?
Notes from meeting held on 9th January 2024

It's not all doom and gloom - POLITICS in PUBS Newcastle started the new year with a few reasons to be cheerful!

There is plenty of cause for pessimism in the UK today, but we decided to start the new year on a positive note. Our January meeting was an open discussion - looking back over the past year and ahead to 2024, we asked what has given us cause for hope and which new topics should we discuss at future meetings?

It was a lively and entertaining conversation, and (much to our surprise!) we found there were several reasons to be cheerful.

People are pushing back!

We are experiencing creeping authoritarianism in many areas of our lives. At previous meetings we have discussed traffic restrictions, lockdowns, net zero, gambling controls and the use of 'nudge' tactics to manipulate us into compliance.

Thankfully, citizens are increasingly pushing back against this overreach, with recent examples including the anti-ULEZ demonstrations in London and the farmer protests across Europe. A petition against the implementation of gambling affordability checks received over 100,000 signatures, requiring a parliamentary debate.

We celebrated the phenomenal growth of grassroots initiatives like UsforThem and Together which empower people to fight for our civil liberties.

There is pushback, too, against the ideological capture of our institutions. Despite extreme threats and even violence, women are fighting more resolutely than ever to defend their hard-won rights. Organisations like Women's Rights Network, Woman's Place UK, and Let Women Speak (LWS) give us hope that the assaults on women's spaces, sports and language will ultimately be defeated. As one member put it, we should be cheerful about living on TERF Island!

Free speech wins in the courts

Many feel they cannot express themselves at work, or even on social media, for fear of losing their job. But a growing number of people, many supported by the excellent Free Speech Union, have taken successful legal action against employers who infringed their freedom of expression.

Successes of the past year include social worker Rachel Meade and Arts Council officer Denise Fahmy, who both won discrimination and harassment claims on the basis of their gender-critical beliefs. Sean Corby's bosses at Acas ordered him to remove social media posts criticising BLM, but a tribunal confirmed that opposing critical race theory is a protected belief under the Equality Act. Carl Borg-Neal was awarded damages of nearly half a million pounds after being unfairly dismissed by Lloyds Bank for asking a question during an EDI course.

Thankfully, the controversial charity Mermaids lost its attempt to have charitable status stripped from the LGB Alliance. The ruling prompted the Charity Commission to note that charities must be respectful of opposing views.

While the build-up of case law that protects free speech is a reason to be cheerful, these cases take a huge emotional and financial toll on the complainants. We hope that soon employers will start to respect employees' rights without the threat of court action.

Victories against woke capitalism

Divisive ideology is rampaging through our corporations, but some high profile examples over the past year demonstrated the truth of the maxim 'Go woke, go broke'.

Bud Light experienced a 17% decline in year-on-year sales after using trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney to promote their beer. Victoria's Secret dropped 'diversity' advertising following a forecast £1bn loss. Unilever's new CEO announced that the company would no longer push social justice messages in advertising, following a drop in sales and share prices. Many corporations finally stopped supporting BLM following revelations about their financial fraud, and more recently their response to the 7th October Hamas attack.

Coutts and NatWest picked on the wrong person when they debanked Nigel Farage; he not only fought back for his own case, but shone a light on the extent of this scandalous practice and set up Account Closed to help other victims of debanking. The CEOs of both banks were forced to resign, and the BBC apologised for misreporting the affair.

Government doing the right thing (sometimes ...)

Our current Government offers very few reasons to be cheerful, but there were a few glimmers of light.

Westminster vetoed Scotland's gender recognition reform bill in January 2023, and shortly afterwards the Isla Bryson case forced Nicola Sturgeon to admit that it might not be a great idea to put men - especially double rapists - in women's prisons.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act became law in May and Arif Ahmed was appointed Free Speech Tsar the following month. The Act creates a new statutory tort allowing students and academics to sue higher education providers in the County Court if their free speech rights are breached.

Hundreds of new North Sea oil and gas drilling licences were announced in July, suggesting acceptance that fossil fuels must remain part of the UK's fuel mix for years to come, and that increasing our reliance on imports in the name of Net Zero benefits no one.

Following two years of record high immigration and growing public concern, Government finally introduced measures to reduce numbers, such as not allowing students to bring dependents and raising the minimum salary requirement for work visas.

Guidance for schools on dealing with trans ideology was issued in December after long delays. It clarifies that schools do not have to accept a child's request to socially transition, teachers and pupils should not be pressured into using different pronouns, and parents must be informed and involved in the decisions that impact their children's lives.

The Overton window is opening

The Overton window defines the range of ideas the public is willing to consider and accept. Events of the past year suggest that the Overton window is gradually opening a little wider on several topics. More politicians and journalists are questioning the wisdom of Net Zero now that the costs and impacts are becoming clear. There has been more open discussion about levels of legal immigration and, since October 7th, about the problems of multiculturalism and lack of integration. The idea of leaving the ECHR is gaining wider mainstream acceptance as people see the impact on communities of Government's failure to control our borders.

We agreed that the biggest reason to be cheerful is that, despite creeping authoritarianism and cancel culture, we can still get together to speak freely and make new friends who share our concerns. We celebrated the launch and growth of Politics in Pubs over the past year and raised a glass to more great debates in the year ahead - cheers!

Paula Lightfoot, 2024

More information about Politics in Pubs can be found here: politicsinpubs.org.uk

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© C J M Hewett, 2024